Polansky Endowment honors former teacher, benefits wrestling program

EDITOR'S NOTE: Beloved teacher, coach and mentor Richard ‘Dick’ Polansky died Monday, October 8. For this story, published on September 24, Coach Polansky sat down with two former students and athletes who reflected upon the influence and impact their mentor had on their lives.

“Who are the important people in our lives? Our parents, perhaps a priest or pastor, and our teachers,” mused Roger Hill, LincolnWay Community Foundation board member and donor of the new R.A. Polansky Endowment for Central DeWitt Wrestling Program. “We encounter lots of teachers and we can all think of teachers that are important in our lives. There are many that I could name, and Mr. Polansky is one of them for sure.”

Richard Polansky spent more than four decades of his life as a teacher, administrator, and coach. He specialized in high school business classes, which is where he met Roger Hill in 1962. Hill attributes his esteem for this special teacher to the many life lessons he learned in Polansky’s classroom.

Polansky helped revive Central DeWitt’s wrestling program when he started teaching there in 1961. In those days, the school was known as Central Community School and wrestling practice was held in the school’s basement-level coal bin. Dick Kelly was one of his first athletes. “I think probably one of the most important things he taught is sportsmanship, Kelly recalls. “I’ll never forget the first time Mr. Polansky corrected me on my attitude after I’d lost a match at Mt. Vernon – my very first match. I said something that was inappropriate and he drug me back out to the middle of the mat and made me shake hands with my opponent again, and be polite about it.”

Kelly went on to wrestle on a scholarship at Missouri State University. “I owe an awful lot to Mr. Polansky,” Kelly admits. “He taught you things that weren’t on the mat.”

Those lessons of sportsmanship, discipline and sacrifice are still being taught through the wrestling program at Central DeWitt. Coach Matt Ohnemus trained 35 wrestlers in the 2017-18 season and expects a similar-sized this winter. He noted several areas of current need in the program’s budget that could be met with future funds from the endowment. “We believe deeply in the type of young men we can mold through the work, discipline and individual commitment asked of by the sport. Helping to create better students, athletes, citizens and teammates is always our primary goal,” said Ohnemus.

The endowment fund was started through LincolnWay Community Foundation, which is an affiliate of the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque. The fund will pay out annually, forever. “I think having community support for some of our programs is important,” said Hill. “If we build this endowment up over the years, it’ll be significant – and it’s telling them we support what they’re doing.”

Contributions to the new R.A. Polansky Endowment fund may be eligible for the Endow Iowa tax credit. For more information, contact Pat Henricksen at 563.659.5039, or click here to give now. 

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Founded in 2002, the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque strengthens communities and inspires giving. We are dedicated to improving the quality of life throughout Northeast Iowa by serving donors, making grants to local nonprofit organizations, and providing community leadership through convening and collaboration. Guided by the values of integrity, equity and inclusion, collaboration, excellence and innovation, we seek to ensure a vibrant and inclusive Greater Dubuque region with resources and opportunity for all.